About the Video

The Nuts and Bolts of Becoming a Technical Translator

Specialisation is becoming an increasingly important strategy for translators in the face of global competition, pressure on prices, and machine translation. While these undoubtedly present a threat for the unprepared, specialisation offers insulation from these factors and may even help turn them into opportunities. The presenter will share insights gained through running a translation business and practising as an engineer for a combined 20 years.

This presentation discusses specialisation and its benefits in general terms and includes tips for any translator thinking of specialising, regardless of their chosen field. The presenter will also visit his own specialisation in engineering and invite the audience to test their terminology skills with the fun “Name that Fastener” quiz. The presentation covers topics including reasons to specialise, technical communication, the role of translation technology, and terminology. Solutions to common problems will be explored, finishing with a checklist of suggested activities for selling yourself as an expert.

Specialisation can help freelancers and agencies to fend off downward pressure on prices and generate more interesting work. From a client’s perspective, it can be worth paying more and waiting longer in order to receive a high quality job from a trusted supplier. While machine translation and low-cost markets undoubtedly mean changes to our traditional roles as translators, they also have the effect of massively increasing the volume of words translated. With increased exposure to translated content in all forms comes an awareness among some users of the limitations of lower quality options. So skilled human translation will remain of value to buyers, but they will be buying expertise from specialists.

Translators selling themselves as specialists must be skilled technical communicators in their target language, so the presentation explores the role of the communicator, the types of documentation to expect, and ways to improve skills. With expectations high, the expert practitioner must develop an array of habits, strategies, and techniques to help them both recognise and ensure the right level of quality. Translation technology has an important role to play, and this may even include embracing machine translation as a quality-managed tool.

No specialist is complete without their terminology, so the “Name that Fastener” game explores this essential aspect of our work through the eyes of an engineering translator. Taking the difficulties of translating the German words for screw, bolt, pin, and stud as an example (no German knowledge required), this is a light-hearted, first-hand insight into what it can take to get things right. Some helpful tricks and tips are offered.

The presentation concludes with a look at ways to acquire expertise and how to use this as a promotional tool. Attendees are encouraged to view their route to specialisation as a business investment and to learn how to sell themselves along the way. They can expect to go away with renewed focus on delivering the right quality to the right target audience, doing more work that interests them, and creating a more successful translation business.

After this video you will have:

  • Insight into what it takes to become an expert technical translator
  • Ideas for research techniques
  • A plan of action for positioning yourself as an expert
  • Renewed focus on delivering the right quality to the right target


CIOL membership discount: 10% (the code is available on the membership page)


Stephen Powley

Stephen is an innovative engineer and an experienced translator. His company, Omflow Ltd., provides engineering consultancy, high-quality translations, and technical writing. He is currently pursuing his passion for research with a PhD in Automotive Cybersecurity.

Stephen studied engineering to master’s level in Leeds (UK) and Dortmund (Germany) and his career since has taken him on a fascinating journey – from programming Formula 1 cars and guiding rafts down extreme rapids to translating for some of the biggest names in German engineering.

Stephen has a broad perspective on how engineering and language shape, and are shaped by, the world at large. In his spare time, he actively promotes both languages and engineering as a volunteer.


1 hour 11 min

Who should watch it?

Newcomers to the translation profession, practicing professionals without a specialisation, general audience with an interest in engineering translation.

What are the benefits to you? 

After this video you will have:

  • Insight into what it takes to become an expert technical translator
  • Ideas for research techniques
  • A plan of action for positioning yourself as an expert
  • Renewed focus on delivering the right quality to the right target
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  1. Andrea Denby

    I enjoyed the webinar. I believe many of us have specialisation by education and training and some of us are truly outstanding in our original fields. It is, however, part of our profession to keep learning since the themes we encounter are unlimited. I never studied engineering formally but have been driving for decades so I have learnt a lot about driving and my car. A few years ago, Skoda asked me to do some power point slide translations at very short notice. I sat down to it, and enjoyed the poetical challenge of fitting the translated text into the slides. Over the years I have joined the team and I regularly translate for Skoda. I have been learning a lot about technology, and the cleverness as well as safety of new Skoda models. Working for Skoda has become a professional hobby for me that I pursue to an appropriate professional standard by now. Although I do not work in German, I understand German, and this webinar has contributed to this very special little field I cultivate for Skoda. It was a pleasure to learn with eCPD.

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